District continues to raise BARR to support students

September 27, 2019

Fewer ‘Fs’, less stress: Ninth graders thriving thanks to BARR

In 25 years of teaching, Bob Manning has seen a lot of programs come and go. He’s also been asked time and time again to add “just one more thing” to his already full plate as a social studies teacher. So it’s no wonder he had some reservations about adopting yet another a new program three years ago as he made the move along with his ninth grade students to the high school.

“In the beginning I had reservations about starting the BARR program,” Manning said. “It takes extra time and effort, and these days, teachers seem to have more expectations placed upon them and less time to give.”

So what changed Bob’s mind? The results. 

Since implementing the Building Assets, Reducing Risks or BARR program at the start of the 2017-2018 school year, the overall number of courses ninth graders have failed has been cut in half - dropping from 14% three years ago down to just 6% last year. Ninth graders are also self-reporting less stress and a need for less support in organizational and study skills.

BARR is designed to help ninth graders make the transition from middle school to high school. By creating teams of students who work closely with a core group of common teachers, the large school feels much smaller and more personal. Teachers meet each week to discuss each and every student they teach and track their progress. The weekly meetings allow teachers to spot issues early and proactively address them with the students. Staff also meet weekly after school to discuss kids who may need even more help and support, whether in the classroom or with social or emotional issues.  Administrators, counselors and teachers share what they know, create an action plan if needed, and then follow up with the students, parents and each other to make sure those plans are working. 

“When teachers can get together and discuss a student's strengths and performance in various settings it lets us make informed judgements on how to help move students forward,” said Drew Smith, a ninth grade Language Arts teacher. “ A personal 'why' of mine is that we all make the world. BARR helps us build that world for our students together, every step of the way. “

BARR’s main premise is that teachers need to consider more than just a student’s academics. The BARR philosophy is to help identify students who are struggling inside or outside of the classroom, and then build a team of adults to come around them to help address the barrier so they can learn. It challenges the tradition of teachers working in silos with a specific group of students, and instead, has teachers work as a team to better address the needs of all of their students together.

“We put in the time,” Manning said, admitting that BARR does require more of teachers and school staff. “But when working with people who are committed to students and are good teammates, and we see the positive results, it's very motivating.  That is what changed the way I view BARR. It's been a great program and it improves every year.”



Elementary teachers try out BARR in their classrooms

When it comes to helping their students succeed, a group of fifth grade teachers at Lake Elmo Elementary are willing to try just about anything. Even if that means coming in for extra training over the summer, or signing on to try something that’s never been done before in an elementary school.

Lake Elmo’s fifth grade team is part of a first-of-its-kind Think Tank this year, exploring the concepts of BARR that have proven so successful at the high school to determine how those same principles could work in an elementary setting. The team participated in the same training as their counterparts at Stillwater Area High School and are also receiving ongoing coaching throughout the school year. The teachers are meeting every week to discuss the strengths of each of their students as well as any concerns that arise. When necessary, they conduct risk reviews to help understand what struggles a child may be having and identify strategies to better support them.

“By implementing the BARR program at Lake Elmo Elementary, we are able to enhance our current relationship building practices and increase the number of students that are benefitting from teacher collaboration and personalized instruction,” said teacher Kelly Hoskins. 

In addition to the regular teacher meetings taking place this year, the team will be testing out pieces of the BARR curriculum with their students. The hope is that the resources provided by BARR will support other efforts teachers are making in their classrooms to build community, improve relationships and better support students.

“We’ve been asked for years to create something like this at the elementary level,” said Hannah Scherer from the BARR Center. “We chose to work with Stillwater because it stood out as a wonderful example of how the model works. We think BARR will work along with the incredible things already in place (like Responsive Classroom and Second Step) to better support elementary students.”